In giving a push/shove as Auckland as an innovation or knowledge city, chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman reckons the country could expect area like industrial design and digital and media research to have a high presence.
In his ‘Auckland conversation’ speech of early December (see here), Glucklman says that Wynyard quarter innovation proposal would have such a characteristic.
The election announcement that IRL is going to be remoulded into a much larger organisation, with a much larger Auckland footprint (of which the broad brushstrokes let alone the detail has still to be worked through) will be part of the innovation concentration.
Along with better linking of academia, entrepreneurs and industry working together much more closely, Gluckman acknowledges another challenge – if/when Auckland gets its act together as NZ’s only international city.
Keeping knowledge based businesses in Auckland (or NZ for that matter) is difficult, for as companies grow their markets, overseas, there will be a pull to shift executive functions and even manufacturing offshore.
“I think the only thing that can keep the companies anchored here will be an R&D function so embedded within the city that it cannot move,” he says. “We have to build a city and a country that really values knowledge and science and entrepreneurship. We need technology parks, we need an intertwining of researchers, in the public and private sector, we need a world class university sector and a vibrant knowledge based ecosystem. Without that I fear for the future. The time is now.”
A feature of the small high tech oriented countries that Gluckman uses as NZ comparators (Denmark, Israel, Singapore) is their capacity to attract multinationals to do research and development in them. It is not unrealistic to imagine they will come here he says.
Auckland has the attributes that could attract multinational activity, and its diverse populations makes it attractive for many forms of product development – in food, in pharma and in advanced electronics he gives as examples.
Attracting big food industries or some of the digital companies to set up shop in Auckland should be a significant goal for the Auckland (supercity) regional government. Overseas the experience has been that once one multinational moves in, others follow.
“Local and central government, the public and private sectors need to work together to change the perception of New Zealand, and Auckland in particular,” he says.
And though the rest of the country has a love/hate relationship with Auckland, as the country's major city, it is pretty important that it gets its act together, better.
Auckland consumes more than it produces from an economic point of view. Innovation is probably the only way it can positively contribute - and heck, the rest of the country might even start to give it some love if it did so.